Statistical records tumbled and stumbled around a relieved Old Trafford on Wednesday night as what was essentially Manchester City reserves were mercilessly thumped 1-0 and knocked out of the rebooted League Cup by a side Jose Mourinho selected in must win mode.
It was a case of congratulations all round Stretford as the palable anxiety of a home support bossed throughout by City’s boisterous thousands, saw their side register only their second home win at home over The Blues in seven attempts. Jose ‘Partridge’ of publicly announced bizarre Lowry hotel misery himself sealed only his fourth win over a Pep Guardiola team at the umpteenth attempt. Cue a well drilled Gill-Ferguson orchestrated media dutifully declaring that the rags have turned a corner whilst supporters that under three different managerial regimes inside four years have swung from despair to delight and back again with every erratic result are declaring once again that “this could be it.” We all saw the “united of old” articles hacks at the Daily Mirror were churning out in August.
Yet, as the Home Counties street parties continue, if the most expensively assembled squad in Premier League history persists in serving up the turgid fare that registered 2 shots on target against a team containing 4 teenagers then I see the rags in mid-table by Christmas. At a second viewing this season I was again surprised how poor they are. After Burnley at the weekend they have a testing run of fixtures and will need more of the help that Mike Dean and his merry men afforded them against City.
Let Wednesday night`s defeat serve as a reminder of how far we have come. The days when we used to dine out on Ian Brightwell rocket blaster and Arthur Albiston OG equalisers are long gone. Fatty Shaw the Stretford left back backed Pep Guardiola`s assertion that United treated the League Cup 4th round tie as a cup final. These are no longer contests to dread.
And so, to City. Well, we are operating at a level now where the League Cup is genuinely a fixture hindrance. It’s contributed to derailing us in Jittery January’s before. I would go further to suggest that Pep has seen enough of his players now that at the time of selecting his side on Wednesday he drew a line in the sand as to what they will be capable of this season and the risk of an extra 3 or 4 games against big clubs pitched into the middle of an already heavy fixture list appear to have tipped the balance. Talking of risk, you only have to take one look at the woeful performances of Gael Clichy and Nico Otamendi at the swamp and realise that our resources need to be carefully deployed.
That said, we could easily have got more out of the game than we did and Pep`s shadow side could have progressed. Kelechi Iheanacho was guilty of a couple of wrong decisions when the goal beckoned but that also alludes to the fact that we are nowhere near direct enough. We are simply not shooting enough. In fact, we are taking the ball increasingly “around the houses” or taking an extra touch or making a pass rather than working goalkeepers. We`ve been here before! Pep surely has to be seeing this.
However, two enormous plusses burst out of the game. Alex Garcia and Pablo Maffeo were absolutely outstanding. The fact that we aren`t winning football matches right now is generating a lot of concern. West Brom has become a must win game. I believe that if we win there our season will re-ignite. Pep could do worse than start at least one of these capable teenagers at the Hawthorns.
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